Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I Send Back The "Dealer's Choice" Cocktail I Ordered?

Dear Salty: At a nice cocktail bar recently, I asked the bartender to make me an off-menu drink with bourbon as the base. I ended up with a cocktail that was way too sweet for my taste. In this case, I just half-finished it and paid for it, but I'm wondering—could I have asked for something else because I wasn't happy with it, or was I in fact stuck with it because I ordered a "dealer's choice"?

Thanks,Bummed About The Bourbon

Dear Bummed,

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, you paid the $12 or whatever this cocktail cost you, so you should get a drink you're happy with. On the other hand, you rolled the dice and put Suspenders McJigger'stache in charge of your booze fate with no guarantees. You made your bed, but do you have to pay to sleep in it?

For the record, I'm assuming you're a normal cocktail customer, not an over-fussy, princess-and-the-pea, nothing-is-ever-perfect-enough pain in the ass. I'm guessing you ordered the dealer's choice because you like cocktails and wanted to try something new, or because you'd tried the other bourbon drinks on the menu and wanted to mix it up.

Assuming you're a reasonable person—don't prove me wrong, pal—I think it's fair to give ol' Suspenders some feedback. Here's why I say that: Off-menu or dealer's choice drinks aren't as spur-of-the-moment as they sound. A lot of times, bartender use these moments to try out a drink they might want to add to the menu, or to test-drive a tweak on a classic recipe. If I was Suspenders, I'd want to know if my new recipe is a dud, or if my Old Fashioned riff sucks.

But be polite—you catch more bees with honey, you know. Ask what else is in the drink, and use that as a chance to say something like "Oh, I was hoping for something a little less on the sweet side." With any luck, Suspenders will take the hint and offer something else. If not, pipe up and ask whether the bar can make you something else instead. (Needless to say, this only works if you ask before you've downed 3/4 of the cocktail.)

Hopefully your bartender doesn't take that feedback too harshly. I've encountered my share of highfalutin "mixologists" who think every cocktail they make expresses some sort of grand vision. Phooey. They're in the business of booze and hospitality, and that means making guests happy. If a bartender isn't willing to take a chance and work to earn your trust, then they shouldn't attempt the dealer's choice in the first place.

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